By Traci Bridges
It’s been a while since James Scott Bullard headlined a show in Florence.
And when Bullard takes the stage at Creek Ratz this weekend, some things will be a little different.
For starters, Bullard’s band, The Late Night Sweethearts, boasts a whole new lineup – well, new to Bullard but nowhere near new to anyone familiar with the Florence music scene.
Bullard will be backed by Tyler Roberts on guitar, Jeff Springs on bass and Rocky Phipps on drums. Phipps has played in several local bands. Roberts’ and Springs’ most recent musical venture was Midway Blue.
Bullard, who recently relocated to his native Mullins after years of calling the Triangle area of North Carolina his musical home, said he’s extremely excited about the new lineup, yet a little amazed at how easily it fell into place.
“After coming home, I was desperate to find a good backup band,” Bullard said.
“With everybody I talked to, Jeff Springs’ name kept coming up over and over,” he said. “I didn’t realize at the time that Midway Blue was defunct, and I didn’t want to steal anybody from another band, so I just didn’t really pursue it. But then I heard Midway Blue was done, and Jeff and I finally got together and hung out. It just clicked from there.”
Springs suggested Roberts and Phipps, who Bullard had known for years, and the new Late Night Sweethearts were born.
Still, Bullard promises, it is the same – perhaps just a little edgier.
“I think my songwriting has taken a bit of a dark turn, a little more outlaw-y,” Bullard said. “But it’s still what I’ve always done – just with a little twist. I think people will like it.”
Bullard’s love of music began at an early age. A self-proclaimed outsider in his hometown, he never quite got into the traditional hunting, fishing or little league most other boys his age were interested in. The guitar became the outlet he’d always needed.
“I really just never was athletically inclined, but I was playing little league and on the way home, I saw this guitar in a pawn shop window,” Bullard said. “My dad had always been into music and played a little, so when I showed it to him, he said, ‘Sure, you can get it.’ So basically, on Wednesday, I was playing little league. On Thursday, I got the guitar. And on Friday, I didn’t go back to little league practice.”
Despite his father’s love of George Jones, Hank Williams Sr. and other country legends, Bullard spent the majority of his teen years immersed in heavy metal. It all started with Black Sabbath’s “We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll.” A high school girlfriend gave the album to Bullard as a gift, and he spent every spare minute he had messing around on the guitar and learning the album from start to finish.
“I was brought up around a mix of music. My dad liked old country, and my mom liked Top 40,” Bullard said. “I gravitated toward metal. If you’re a kid starting out in a garage band, the easiest thing to start with is punk or metal.”
Bullard went on to form a hard rock band by the name of Crane. The band was successful throughout the region but eventually broke up. Suddenly, Bullard was bandless and without any real direction in life. He applied to go to college, but never went. A family friend who owned a vacation home in Wilmington offered to let Bullard move there to “find himself.”
“Living up there, all these people were always telling me to check out this alt-country, rock guy named Ryan Adams,” Bullard said. “I didn’t think I would be into it at all, but I bought his album ‘Heartbreaker’ and took it home and listened to it. And it hit me. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense. Why can’t I put two worlds together – rock and country? I started writing, and within a week, I’d written my first solo album.”
Bullard is working on his a studio album at Florence’s Southern Harmony Recording Studios, with an anticipated summer release date.